WOU program earns praise

Western Oregon University graduate Terry Manning and two young helpers worked on the Lavonne’s Fish Camp restoration project in Kotzebue, Alaska.

MONMOUTH -- Marcella Flores said last week some of her classmates at Western Oregon University would no doubt be relaxing on beaches in California about this time.

And sure enough, friends from her hometown in Washington state hounded her to join them for a Las Vegas getaway.

Flores, a junior studying American sign language and interpreting, admitted to some temptation to go the traditional spring break route. Instead, she's in San Francisco -- leading a team of WOU students in assisting a homeless shelter for women and children.

"A lot of friends back home don't get it," Flores said. "But this has made me feel great, to do something for others while traveling."

Flores is involved in the "Alternative Break" program, one of several volunteer opportunities students have through the university's Service Learning and Career Development (SLCD) office.

Earlier this month, Western was included on the U.S. President's

Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

The recognition, by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service, is meant to increase the public's awareness of contributions college students make to their local communities.

"We've become a place for community partners to find students and for students to find opportunities in the community," said Michael Hampton, SLCD director.

In 2008-09, 605 WOU students spent more than 29,300 hours volunteering for various service projects -- local, national and international -- through the university.

Efforts included planting trees in Gentle Woods Park or being paired with members of the Monmouth Senior Center, doing the yard work they might be incapable of handling or simply passing time with them.

Alternative Break has been one of the most sought after opportunities since its creation in 2005, with 183 students traveling to do projects in New Orleans, Cusco, Peru, and other sites.

Since it first started, the trips have become more or less student-run and funded, Hampton said. Student leaders select the projects, and coordinate transportation, lodging and fundraising to pay for it all. Last year, teams collectively raised $48,000.

"It's a real work load," Hampton said. "And it's about applying those real world situations to what they do in the classroom."

Flores, meanwhile, will be planning a summer trip to a deaf-blind camp in Seattle when she returns next week.

"It's changed my outlook on life," said Flores, who first worked with homeless youths in San Diego through the program in 2008. "We've been able to see the world through others' eyes."

For more information on the Alternative Break program and the Service Learning and Career Development office: 503-838-8648.

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